The debate over gay rights has long been a fixture of heated, highly emotional debates. The very title of this blog pays homage to The Castro, a San Francisco neighborhood widely seen as the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. And during the 1960s, a closeted insurance salesman living in New York City left his job and drove cross nation to San Francisco. Figuratively and literally leaving behind his previous life, Harvey Milk was about to embark on a new journey whose impact still exists today.
Harvey Milk, who would come to be affectionately known as ‘The Mayor of Castro Street’, rose to prominence as an openly gay man venturing into politics in a stand for equal rights. Having successfully organized a boycott against beer distributors in gay bars across The Castro over demands that the distributors hire more gay truck drivers, Harvey was giving voice to an increasingly discriminated against minority population. Harvey brought to a boil all the unrest and frustration that had long existed but up until then lacked organization and a persuasive call to action.
Harvey’s foray into politics became as much about the issue of homosexuality as it was a historic rise for an openly gay man. Early on, his campaigns and debates with opponents often revolved around dispelling prejudicial stereotypes that had long been perpetuated. Harvey’s mission to get all gay persons, young and old, to come out of the closet struck a national chord. It was the idea that if more people came out to their friends and family, it would create an environment where denying the community equal rights would become increasingly personal and harder to do. Harvey said, “It’s too good an opportunity. For once we can show that gays do heroic things, not just all that ca-ca about molesting children and hanging out in bathrooms.”
Running for San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and representing the Castro District, Harvey Milk in 1977 became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. After living in the closet for most of his life, Harvey’s revolutionary stand for equality sparked a nationwide stir and paved the way for a modern day activist movement that would alter the path of this country’s history.
Harvey died fighting for what he believed in, and his legacy lives on today. Incremental steps of progress have taken place at a judicial and legislative level, but change has yet to come from the ballot box, and more must be done. The movement that Harvey brought to national attention remains controversial and a source of genuine debate and argument. But there still remain those who use fear-mongering and seek to exploit this wedge issue in a ploy for more votes. It arguably aided George W. Bush win re-election in 2004, and social issues such as gay rights remain a rallying call for the conservative base. We must not let those individuals hijack the conversation and use their crusade against minority rights a cause for personal gain. It deteriorates the quality of conversation we could be having and serves as an insult to the memory of Harvey Milk.